Conscious consumption alone won’t save the world, but it’s a place where all of us can start. Around the world, there’s a rising tide of responsible consumers looking to vote with their wallets and spend money with responsible companies.
Sian Conway, Founder of the world’s first and largest network for ethical business owners #EthicalHour, began her own journey into responsible consumption by breaking her fast fashion habit.
High street fashion brands release up to 24 new collections a year, at low prices which encourage shoppers to treat clothes as disposable.
Like many consumers, Sian found herself swept up in those trends, addicted to chasing the latest style and never stopping to think about how her clothes were made.
But that all changed with a lightbulb moment during a trip to Cambodia.
She noticed the label on her slacks read “Made in Cambodia” – which got her thinking. ‘Someone in Cambodia made this pair of trousers. Not a robot, but a real person. If I paid such a low cost for them, what was the woman making them being paid?’
That single question sparked a wave of change.
UNWRAPPING THE TRUTH
From there, Sian began a journey of discovery to uncover the exploitation in the fashion industry. Confronting issues like modern slavery, the high suicide rate of Indian cotton farmers and the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse which killed 1,134 people – many of them low paid garment workers for high street brands.
This brought Sian to a crossroad – she could either continue buying fast fashion and be part of this exploitation, or she could stop chasing the latest trends and make more conscious decisions about her clothes.
She made the second choice.
Simply by making better purchase decisions, she started to play a positive role in advocating for the women working in garment factories and in making positive choices for the planet.
ENCOURAGING CONSUMPTION FOR GOOD
Sian began to wonder what more she could do to live a life of responsible consumption.
Working in corporate marketing, she was spending most of her time and using her skills to encourage people to increase consumption, which left her with feelings of dissonance with her personal values.
During the same trip to Cambodia, Sian had spent a day with local artisans, learning about their traditional handicrafts. Feeling inspired, she shared a video to Instagram of a woman weaving on a loom – which was liked by a handicraft association that Sian later visited in Siem Reap.
She began to see the power of connecting digitally, and how this could support real world positive impact. When one of the association’s volunteers thanked her for helping spread the word about their work, she realised she already had skills she could use to advocate for social change.
As Sian began connecting with like-minded conscious consumers and ethical business owners, to help her learn more about sustainable living, she realised she could use these skills to help them too. By helping them tell their story, attract customers and make an income they could invest in their impact.
By helping ethical businesses grow, Sian realised she could play a part in making responsible consumption the norm, and so she left her corporate career as Head of Marketing for a software company to combine her marketing skills, tech experience and passion for ethical living.
LEAVE NO CHANGEMAKER BEHIND
Through Ethical Hour, Sian began connecting like-minded changemakers. Supporting them through business mentoring, marketing training and consultancy, and embedding work towards the Global Goals into her own business and the work she was doing with clients.
Ethical living had felt so overwhelming when she first began exploring the issues in the fashion industry. Sian remembered feeling the guilt and shame about her past spending habits, and feeling powerless in the face of such large issues – despite the energy and drive she felt for her causes and values.
She wanted to do work with more meaning, and the process of aligning her life and career to her values wasn’t easy. All too often, it was tempting to abandon it all and stop taking action. But Sian realised that unless we all take action, however small, nothing will change.
This is why Sian’s legacy is to leave no changemaker behind.
Community and connection helped Sian overcome the feeling of powerlessness, and when she unlocked her ability to create change, she encountered a transformation that spread across all areas of her life. She felt empowered and confident, as she was finally living out her purpose.
Through Ethical Hour, she empowers all changemaking business owners to release their fear, embrace their voice for change and unlock the power of finding their purpose.
Like Sian, each one of us has unique skills and talents, and we can all make a positive impact in our own way, once we realise our potential. The important thing is taking the first step.
EXTENDING THE SPIRIT OF GIVING
Apart from supporting ethically conscious businesses through their marketing efforts, Sian also directly supports women in the manufacturing production line through her favourite B1G1 project – providing access to sewing machines for women in Bangladesh.
By providing women with access to these sewing machines, she empowers them to start their own home businesses and utilise their skills to make a living, as well as enabling them to avoid the dangerous and exploitative conditions of mass market garment factories and sweatshops.
Every time Sian completes a mentoring call with a client, she extends the spirit of giving by turning their investment into a day of access to a sewing machine. In these little ways, more and more businesses get to play a part in building an ethical and sustainable future.
THE BEST WAY TO RUN A BUSINESS
Over consumption has become such a bad habit in society that landfill waste is getting out of control.
Yet brands continue to invest millions in advertising to create demand for the latest trends, whipping consumers into a shopping frenzy and increasing their financial bottom line, while the environment pays the price.
The fashion industry is a prime example of our consumption problem. Clothing is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK, and the average British consumer wastes £142 a year buying items they never wear.
Responsible consumption reduces the strain of production on the environment, and helps address the exploitation of workers whose wages, safety and quality of life suffer as profit margins get squeezed further.
Responsible consumption isn’t just important – it’s essential if we all want to survive and thrive.
With an ultimate vision to create a world where ethical and sustainable consumption is the default option for every customer, Sian believes that it must start by creating a world where all businesses operate ethically. This change can only come about if ethical operations are the most profitable and successful strategy for businesses – and to make that happen, ethical and sustainable businesses must excel in marketing.
To all budding business owners making the transition into ethical operations, Sian imparts the following wisdom:
”Positive impact alone won’t sell your products or services for you, but it will make your marketing more effective.”
“When quality and price is equivalent, social purpose is the number one deciding factor for shoppers globally. There’s a rising tide of responsible consumers looking to vote with their wallets and spend money with responsible companies. Embedding positive impact across your business is the perfect magnet to attract like-minded customers, gain their trust and grow your relationship with them.”
“We can achieve SDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production. We are already achieving it. And we’re creating a better future where responsible consumption is the norm.”